By Bruce and Amy Friedman
We took six of our nine children from our home in Omaha, Neb., to Minneapolis on Dec. 20 to visit their eldest brother, Ricky, who had taken a position in Minnesota. We were excited to see Ricky, do some last-minute Christmas shopping at the Mall of America and spend some good family time together.
After a long day at the mall, which included a visit with Santa Claus, we decided to head back to the hotel before meeting Ricky for dinner.
Our 2-year-old son, Henry, fell asleep in his car seat almost immediately en route to the hotel. We decided to wake him and take him to the pool, as he adores the water, pools, spas and baths.
Henry was excited to be at the pool with his brothers and sisters. He had been sitting on his daddy’s lap for a few minutes in the hot tub but clearly wanted to return to the pool where his brothers were playing.
Bruce lifted Henry out of the spa, and, as he was getting out behind Henry, we watched Henry take two steps on the hard, slippery floor and his legs went out from under him, like someone had yanked a rug out from under his feet. It all happened as if in slow motion.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
Bottom. Shoulder. Head.
We were at his side in an instant. Henry never lost consciousness but was angry and scared. He cried. Bruce picked him up, consoled him and inspected every inch of his body — no marks, bumps, scratches or bruising.
Since he missed most of his afternoon nap, we decided to take him up to the room and let him rest before dinner. About 45 minutes later, we woke him up. He was cranky, but he walked, talked, ate and acted relatively normal, but he was agitated and tired. Reluctantly, we decided to let him nap again rather than go out to eat.
About 20 minutes into his second nap, Henry broke out in a cold sweat. Bruce decided to rouse him but was unable to get him completely aware. He tried running a bath to see if that would wake him; we saw no reaction.
A light bulb went off. We realized that something major could be wrong. Bruce placed Henry on the bed and pulled his eyelid up. Henry’s right pupil was dilated. Bruce grabbed his cellphone and turned on a flashlight to see if Henry’s eye would react to the light.
Amy had left to pick up pizzas, so our daughter called her to tell her that something was wrong with Henry and that we needed to get to the hospital immediately. She was back in the entryway waiting when we raced Henry downstairs. Amy held him in the backseat of the car while Bruce jumped into the driver’s seat and set the GPS for the Minneapolis campus of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, about 10 miles from the hotel.
Along the way, Amy kept a close eye on Henry. He wasn’t fully conscious but was breathing.
Halfway to the hospital, Henry started to posture; his legs became stiff and rigid. When we arrived at what we thought was Children’s, we followed the signs to the Emergency Department, but unknowingly ended up in the ED of Abbott Northwestern Hospital on the same block.
We were whisked into a room and several people worked to stabilize Henry and assess his condition. Almost immediately, the ED physician said that he needed to go to Children’s and that an ambulance would take us there. They notified Children’s to assemble their trauma team.
Once at the Children’s ED, we met the neurosurgeon, Walter Galicich, MD, almost immediately. He told us that a CT scan and surgery were absolutely required to save Henry’s life.
Things moved fast from there. We followed Henry and the team from the ED to the CT scanner and then to the surgical area. The doors closed, and we were left in the waiting area; it was out of our hands. It was amazing that only minutes earlier we were just arriving in the ED.
After surgery, Dr. Galicich was guarded with his prognosis, simply saying we have to see how Henry comes out of it the next morning. What was clear was that Dr. Galicich and the quick work of the whole team at Children’s had saved our child’s life. We knew at this point that Henry would survive the injury, but we wondered if he would wake up, recognize Mommy and Daddy, speak, laugh, or even be able to walk.
The next morning, in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), Henry was taken off of the medication that kept him sedated overnight and extubated. We were ecstatic when he cried and moved his extremities. That excitement gave way to more wondering. Could he see us? Would he recognize us? Would he sit up, walk and talk again? Day after day, Henry began picking up those basic life functions that the injury temporarily had taken from him.
Henry spent nine days recovering at Children’s. And each step brought excitement — then wonder — as to what he’d do next. All along the way we had wonderful nurses, doctors and staff share our joy, strive to make Henry comfortable.
Members of the various teams — including the trauma and neurological teams — answered our many questions day after day. They were patient with us and loving and caring with Henry. It wasn’t an easy job, either — dealing with parents who had almost lost their 2-year-old, and Henry, who was angry, hurting and scared.
Soon, Henry began to sit up on his own in a wagon, lift his sippy cup to his mouth and was saying “Mommy” and “Daddy.” We were able to transfer him ourselves to a pediatric rehabilitation hospital in Lincoln, Neb., on Dec. 30.
Henry spent 23 days there, but he’s home now and continuing to make progress. We are hopeful he will make a full recovery.
The day before we left Children’s, Dr. Galicich came by to see Henry. He was happy to see how well Henry was doing and amazed at the recovery he had made. At that time, he told us how serious the injury was — when Henry fell and hit his head, it caused an epidural hematoma, a brain bleed. Nearly a third of his skull had filled with blood, causing severe pressure on his brain. It’s quite unlikely that an adult would have survived the injury, and we probably were mere minutes away from losing Henry.
In addition to the wonderful care they gave Henry, the staff at Children’s took the time to assure us that there were presents in his room on Christmas morning, and that we, his parents, had a place to stay in the hospital or nearby. They reminded us to take care of ourselves (get enough sleep and enough to eat) so that we were able to take care of Henry.
Our family is tremendously indebted to the doctors, nurses and all of the staff members at Children’s. Thank God that this facility was close, that a neurosurgeon was in the hospital when we arrived and that everyone there knew how to provide our child with the best possible care.
What to do in the event of a traumatic brain injury
According to Meysam Kebriaei, MD, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Children’s, if your child experiences any kind of head trauma, keep an eye out for the following signs and symptoms:
- Loss of consciousness
- Progressive and worsening headache
- Lethargy or fatigue
- Increased irritability
- Post-traumatic seizures
- Post-traumatic memory loss
- Unequal pupils
- Weakness on one side of the face or body
Should you notice any of them, it’s best to bring your child in for an evaluation by a medical professional.